Delectable dishes from exotic settings


September 18, 2002|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

Some cooks dream of roaming through the outdoor markets of exotic lands and learning regional specialties from the locals.

If you've never lived that fantasy you can at least benefit from the experiences of Chris and Carolyn Caldicott, who have produced an ambitious, beautiful and informative book that will whet the appetites of both cooks and travelers.

In The Spice Routes (Publishers Group West, $35) they offer an accessible culinary guide to the most famous of these routes: the overland Silk Route and China, the Mediterranean path the Phoenicians traveled carrying spices through Europe and the routes taken by Arab caravans and the Venetians.

The book begins with a history of the spice trade, then focuses on specific areas, such as the Eastern Mediterranean, the Indian subcontinent, Asia and the Americas.

From Cairo's Khan el-Khalili bazaar, they emerge with a recipe for marinated sea bass flavored with coriander, cumin, fennel, honey and tomatoes.

From Kerala, near India's Malabar Coast, there is home-style chicken with coconut, mango and curry leaves.

A steamed cake made of chickpea flour and topped with sliced green chiles, black mustard seeds, curry leaves and dry coconut makes a simple, pretty and unusual appetizer called Dhokla from Gujarat, India.

There are recipes for masala shrimp from Zanzibar and fish fillets marinated in ginger, cinnamon and pepper from the Seychelle Islands.

The Caldicotts also venture into the Americas, where their finds include Chilies en Nogada, poblano peppers stuffed with onions, cloves, chiles, nuts and pomegranate seeds and cooked in cream.

Most of the 66 recipes in the book are fairly simple, but some involve extra steps, like dry-roasting seeds and pulverizing them to make spice mixes.

Included in the 192-page book are fantastic photos of both the food and the countries that will likely leave you struggling in a win-win debate: Should you stay home and start cooking immediately or buy the first plane ticket out?

Marinated Sea Bass

Serves 4


1/4 cup of olive oil

juice of a lemon

3 garlic cloves, chopped

1 tablespoon white-wine vinegar

salt and black pepper


four 7-ounce fillets of sea bass

all-purpose bleached flour

olive oil


1/4 cup olive oil

1 large onion, finely sliced

3 garlic cloves, chopped

1/4 teaspoon cloves

2 teaspoons coriander seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 teaspoon honey

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 pound plum tomatoes, pureed in a food processor

salt and black pepper

chopped parsley

Combine the marinade ingredients, pour them over the fillets, and set them aside for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce: Heat the olive oil in a pot and saute the onion and garlic until soft. Dry-roast the cloves, coriander, cumin and fennel seeds until they are aromatic, then grind to a powder. Add them to the onion and garlic, along with the grated nutmeg, and stir well.

Add the tomato paste, honey, bay leaves, oregano, thyme and pureed tomato sauce. Season with salt, black pepper and chopped parsley to taste. Very gently simmer the sauce while sauteing the sea bass fillets. Remove bay leaves from sauce before serving.

Coat the fillets in unbleached flour and cook in oil until golden-brown.

Place the fish on top of the tomato sauce and serve immediately along with rice cooked with a pinch of saffron.

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